To EHCP or not to EHCP…. that is the question

And a controversial question it is. This post will most likely determine whether you run towards me and Tugboat with a smile on your face, or run screaming in horror. Both are completely appropriate depending on your experience, your circumstances, your beliefs and opinions. I would love comments, but I will not tolerate any aggression (kindness is paramount in everything I do and if I’m to inhabit a corner of the internet, I’m determined that it should be a safe space for all).

The short answer to the question is – it depends. An EHCP will not necessarily be able to provide the accessible education your child needs. For some, it’s essential. For others, a strong relationship with a mainstream school who are committed to true inclusion will render an EHCP irrelevant and sometimes even problematic. For others still, while an EHCP is absolutely necessary, the school your child needs doesn’t exist…

What is an EHCP?

We are hugely fortunate in the UK to stand on the shoulders of disabled people who have fought long and hard for rights, freedoms and legally binding support for our children. This should never be underestimated and it’s profoundly saddening to realise that there is still a need for people to fight for these rights.

In terms of education for children and young people with additional needs and disabilities, this comes in the form of “Education, Health and Care Plans” – legally binding documents that describe the special educational needs of a child and the provision needed to help them meet the outcomes that have been determined.

In theory, it’s a great system. The legislation is clear and the bar for an assessment is, at first glance, very low. There’s a but… there are actually many buts!

When the legislation was put in place, in 2014, resource did not accompany it. The implementation of that legislation is far more complicated than its writing, and local authorities have finite and seemingly decreasing amounts of money to work with. The awful result is that the system works for those who know how to work it. I’m convinced that every child who has an EHCP needs it. But far from every child who needs an EHCP has one.

Should your child need an EHCP, there are resources to help you through the process, and many consultants and private professionals who can guide you through from request to tribunal if needed. If you are in the midst of this process, search online for your local SIAS (SEND information and advice service), and use IPSEA and SOS!SEN for additional support.

At Tugboat, we can provide parent-led support through the EHCP process up to the issue of a final plan, but would signpost you to other services should you need to access the appeals and tribunal system.

Benefits of an EHCP?

There are many reasons why a child with additional needs may need an EHCP and the legislative criteria for an assessment are low. To request an assessment, you must simply prove that:

  1. HAS or MAY HAVE special educational needs or a disability and
  2. MAY REQUIRE additional support through an EHC Plan.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet in the implementation of the law, things become far messier.

If you are in the midst of this process, search online for your local SIAS (SEND information and advice service), and use IPSEA and SOS!SEN.

An EHCP may or may not be necessary for a mainstream school to put the necessary support in place for your child. However, if your child needs a specialist setting, they will need an EHCP – few if any such schools accept children without them.


As a parent who has had three children with ECHPs, I can say that an EHCP is something of a blessing and a curse. This is a system that allowed my children to access education where they simply could not otherwise. But it’s also one that they have found to be isolating and problematic in various ways.

And… an EHCP has a life of its own. The process of obtaining the initial one is almost always long and traumatic, and this tends to affect the whole family. Once you have an EHCP for your child, this is reviewed annually which can be a significant task.

One of the most heart-breaking stories I hear again and again is that of a family who have obtained an excellent EHCP which describes a child’s needs and the provision required extremely well and is absolutely individualised…. but so much so that no school feels able to meet the needs and families find themselves unable to find a suitable setting.

EHCPs are wonderful and essential to meeting the need of many children. But it’s really important to realise that our children live in a very imperfect world. Even if we are able to create a perfect educational provision, they will eventually leave that and enter the messy society we all know. And transition from EHCP to “nothing” can be brutal…


EHCPs can feel essential for many families, because they provide a legally binding document that in theory can ensure our children’s needs are met. Often, this is a result of breakdown in relationships with the school such that families are left feeling unheard and children become trapped in their additional need and disabilities.

The important thing to take away from this post is that EHCPs are a very necessary part of the SEND system. If your family needs one, you will benefit from support to navigate the process, especially to ensure you keep hold of “family life” in the midst of a stressful system.

However, there is a great deal of support available from schools and other systems for children with additional needs without an EHCP, which is far less spoken of and yet is the only option for the vast majority of our children.

I’d love to know what your experience of EHCPs has been… and maybe more importantly what support your child has had without one. Comment below 🙂